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  • A Warning On Babesiosis

    A Warning On Babesiosis

    Many dog owners will be familiar with ticks, small parasitic arachnids that feed off of blood and can carry a host of diseases that infect both us and our pets. Recently ticks have been in the news due to the discovery of a disease that has been rarely documented in the UK until now, Babesiosis.  This disease does not pose any risk to cats, and although human cases have been documented in the past, scientists do not believe the occurrence of this disease is of concern for human health1. However, dogs are at high risk and any dog that contracts Babesiosis must be treated as soon as possible as the disease can be fatal.

    Currently, the only cases of Babesiosis have been in Harlow, Essex, but experts agree that the chance of it spreading is great due to the prolific breeding of female ticks and their increased tolerance of our winter seasons. In Harlow, four dogs have contracted the disease, with one regretfully dying as a result of the disease2

    Babesiosis is a disease caused by the single-celled parasite Babesia.  This parasite is present in the gut of the ornate dog tick (Dermacentor reticulatus) and is believed to be introduced into the dog’s blood stream once the tick has been feeding off of its host for over 24 hours.  Once in the dog’s body, it enters the red blood cells, triggering the antibodies in the immune system to attack the other red blood cells as a way of attempting to eliminate the parasite. This causes severe anaemia, which can be life-threatening in many cases. Other symptoms of Babesiosis include; weakness and lethargy, pale gums, red or brown urine, fever, and jaundice3

    While there are several species of tick present in the UK, deer and hedgehog ticks being the most common, it is only the ornate dog tick that carries the Babesia parasite. More commonly seen in Europe, and only recently spreading to the UK in larger numbers, this tick is a member of the ‘hard’ tick family, Ixodidae.  These ticks have hard plate-like shields that cover their backs, whereas members of the ‘soft’ tick family, Argasidae, have spongy wrinkled backs4.  The ornate dog tick is most commonly found in woodland areas and prefers to live near bodies of water5.  It is most active between August and September, and April and May, however, this can change dependent on the mildness of the weather6.

    Currently, there is no known vaccine for Babesiosis in the UK. Vets are recommending the regular use of anti-tick treatments and checking your dog thoroughly for ticks after every walk. Before removing any ticks yourself, ensure you are using a proper tool such as the O’Tom Tick Twister (www.thoughtfulpets.co.uk/otom-tick-removers-). Never squeeze the tick as this will empty the stomach contents of the tick into your dog’s bloodstream.  It is also best to twist the tick when removing as opposed to pulling. This is due to the fact that a tick’s mouthparts are spiral shaped and pulling the tick can result in the body being removed but the mouthparts remaining in the wound, potentially causing infection.

    If you suspect your dog may have contracted Babesiosis, contact your vet immediately. Treatment must be administered as quickly as possible and may involve your dog being hospitalised. Blood transfusions may be required in severe cases.